“Nay, I trust not,” she replied laughingly. “Vanity is self-esteem run to seed.”
“Sage! Let me make haste to carve the pedestal that I may know how low to do obeisance to wisdom. Hold it so, I pray thee.”
He took the statue and set it on a flat cornice jutting from the stone wall. Rachel obediently steadied it. He selected from his tools a knife with a rounded point of wonderful keenness and smoothed away the chalk in bulk. They stood close together, the sculptor bending from his commanding height to work. From time to time he shifted his position, touching her hand often and saying little.
The pedestal given shape, he began its elaboration. Pattern after pattern of graceful foliation emerged till the design assumed the intricate complexity of the Egyptic style.
Rachel watched with absorbed interest, her head unconsciously settling to one side in critical contemplation. Kenkenes, pressing the blade firmly upon the chalk, felt her cheek touch his shoulder for a fraction of a second; his fingers lost their steadiness and direction, but not their strength; the blade slipped, and the fierce edge struck the white hand that held the statuette.
With a cry he dropped the knife, flung one arm about her and drew her very close to him. The image toppled down and was broken on the rock below, but he saw only the fine scarlet thread on the soft flesh.
Again and again he pressed the wounded hand to his lips, his eyes dimmed with tears of compunction.
“O, Rachel, Rachel!” he exclaimed in a sudden burst of passionate contrition. “Must even the most loving hand in Egypt be lifted against thee?”
The great content on the glorified face against his breast was all the expression of pardon that he asked.
“My love! My Rachel!” he whispered. “Ah, ye generous gods! indulge me still further. Let this, your richest gift, be mine.”
Stunned and only realizing that she must undo his clasp, she freed herself and retreated a little space from him.
And then she remembered.
Slowly and relentlessly it came home to her that this was one of the abominable idolaters, and she had forsworn such for ever. These very arms that had held her so shelteringly had been lifted in supplication to the idols, and the lips, whose kiss she had awaited, would swear to love her, by an image. The pitiless truth, once admitted, smote her cruelly. She covered her face with her hands.
Kenkenes, amazed and deeply moved, went to her immediately.
“What have I said?” he begged. “What have I done?”
What had he done, indeed? But to have spoken, though to explain, would have meant capitulation. She wavered a moment, and then turning away, fled up the valley toward the camp—not from him, but from herself.